Unconsciously, we often tend to parse democracy through metaphors drawn from a monarchic or feudal past. Thus, political parties come to ‘power’. And they ‘rule’. The archetype figure of the ‘leader’ in our heads is a mysterious compound with strong tinges of kingship: unquantifiable properties like ‘charisma’ and ‘aura’ are central to it. Prime ministers like Manmohan Singh—or, more flagrantly, the inoffensive and soft-spoken Inder Kumar Gujral—are commonly perceived to be missing something intangible but essential.
Ditto for chief ministers. It’s as if they do not meet some deeply-felt need, instilled in us through centuries of evolution, if they don’t possess a certain regal elan, even with the subaltern-like vibes of a Mamata Banerjee or Lalu Prasad Yadav. The thought that such a position is purely one of a democratic functionary eludes us. The idea that ‘power’ in a democracy is a matter of trusteeship—conditional and accountable—doesn’t sit well with the pre-democratic template we hold in our collective consciousness.
But people have their own way of communicating as a collective. Periodically, they remind us that it is they who confer that trusteeship. Any political party that loses touch with the ground or thinks it’s wiser than the people it represents and consequently forgets what lies at the core of its mandate—tending to the people and their livelihood issues first, and then only building larger narratives—is asking for trouble. Politics based on more abstract things—like religious, caste or regional identity—can interfere with this only to an extent.
A Brahmin or Rajput in a Madhya Pradesh town will succumb to the lure of identity only after his or her loans are paid. Rural Gujjars in Rajasthan may see in Sachin Pilot a kindred figure who can pull them out of the morass of jobless stagnation. If that promise is not met, they will retract their mandate.
These Assembly election results give us a wealth of information to study the mood on the ground, collectively and in fragmented blocs. Yes, in the first-past-the-post system, the winner takes it all. So the big picture tells us it’s a 3-0 sweep for the Congress. But that’s only a snapshot, a shorthand for a more complex set of facts. It doesn’t tell us that the Congress actually got 0.1 per cent votes less than the BJP in Madhya Pradesh. Nor that, in Rajasthan, it led by a mere 0.5 per cent.
Where did these voteshares move from to reach here? Then juxtapose that with a comparative look at the seat tallies between 2013 and 2018. From these grains of data one could try and read signals to what the future may have in store. Broadly, the BJP may seem to have gone down fighting and managed an honourable exit in at least two of the heartland states.
But a closer look awakens us to the fact that the saffron party, which peaked in 2014, is shedding voteshare right, left and centre! According to stats collated by data analysis website IndiaSpend, of the total 678 Assembly seats in the five states—which make up 15.2 per cent of India’s population—the Congress won 305, and the BJP 199. In Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh, the BJP had won 377 seats and the Congress 118 in 2013—that’s been reversed to 197/281.
In total, the BJP lost 48 per cent of the seats it won in 2013, and the Congress gained 137 per cent. The voteshare percentage movement reflects this: contrast the 41/40.9 figure in favour of the BJP in Madhya Pradesh with the 2013 pair of 45/36. For Rajasthan, the present figure of 38.8/39.3 contrasts even more starkly with the 2013 pair of 45/33. In Chhattisgarh, the huge gap of 33/43 created now is from the near-parity of 41/40 in 2013. The Congress voteshares have risen by 5, 6, and 3 per cent since 2013 respectively.
A more granular analysis of rural/urban (70 per cent of the population in these three states is rural) and reserved constituencies (the BJP registered its worst performance in a decade) tells us why. The very tangible agrarian distress and rural stagnation now have a statistical face. So does middle and upper class disaffection: everyone reading this will be familiar with the pain of shrinking budgets, vanishing surpluses, dipping savings, the sheer lack of extra expendable cash. DeMo and GST together have
left more sections in an economic sulk than with any feel-good factor.
At a political level, Prime Minister Modi may still enjoy some level of popularity, but Rahul Gandhi’s new-found aggression makes him look less infallible. As for BJP chief Amit Shah, his famed micro-management seems to be finally reaching its limit, at odds with local sentiments and the state leaderships.
The top-down, overly centralised approach was never much appreciated by the CMs of older vintage. Shivraj Singh Chouhan, a man once seen as a potential PM, thus bows out with a history of silent attrition behind him—so does Vasundhara Raje, whose distance with the high command was the maximum. At another level, there was nothing to match Rahul Gandhi’s loan waiver promise. Only a Yogi to add entertainment value to a section of new BJP voters from the urban fringe. The more dignified old supporters, with strong ideological leaning but not necessarily drawn to lurid verbal aggression, may have found the new ‘janeudhari’ not so unacceptable.
However, for the Congress, this is only a turnaround, a beginning. Bruising battles lie ahead in Maharashtra, vacated fields like Bengal, Odisha and Andhra/Telangana, not to speak of the giant one, Uttar Pradesh.